Waltham Commons, Sunday, 6:35 AM. The morning after. I’m on my usual seat: a stone bench next to a war memorial plaque. I’ve watched the sunrise from this seat every day for the last thirteen months, sipping coffee and waiting for my narcotic du jour to kick in. Bill, the sex offender, wanders the park with his dog, a mangy chow shepherd named Lucy. The dog chases squirrels. I chase pharmaceuticals. God knows what Bill chases.
At this hour there’s no traffic. The stoplights go from green to yellow to red, purposeless, like little league games without any parents in the stands. Even the convenient stores haven’t opened yet. The loneliness meter spikes.
A skeletal homeless guy appears out of nowhere and asks me for a cigarette. His skin is tighter than a snare drum and marked with scabs. I tell him I don’t smoke and he asks if I have a lighter. Again I tell him I don’t smoke, so he asks for exactly one dollar and eighty-five cents, bus fare to his mother’s house in Braintree. I’ve heard this rap a million times. Ten bus fares to Braintree can get you enough crystal meth for two days of jitter-filled tweaking. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe his face looks like that because he had an allergic reaction to some skin cream, or maybe he just treated himself to a chemical peel. I tell him sorry, nothing I can do. Help is a foreign concept.
The depression meter spikes.
It’s now been forty-five minutes. The Suboxone doesn’t work anymore. Hasn’t worked in months, but that doesn’t stop me from needing it. I reach into my pocket and pull out two yellow tablets: forty milligrams of Xanax, mementos from my date last night with HazelEyes83. Some guys get a good night kiss; I get a handful of benzodiazepines.
I could have gotten more. I could have done things to her unconscious body. But that’s the dark place talking, the woodshed in my mind where certain tools are kept, tools for harvesting savage things. I don’t use those tools, but they’re there. Usually they’re dull and covered in spider webs. But sometimes they gleam.
HazelEyes83 could be dead right now. The only sign of life when I left was the bubbles of spit popping in the corner of her mouth. Something could have happened between then and now. Asphyxiation. Heart failure. Alcohol poisoning. Maybe I should have splashed cold water on her face. Slapped her cheeks. Maybe I should have stayed with her, kept watch until morning when she finally got up to vomit or fumble through the medicine cabinet for the Tylenol. Instead I let her fade, like I have so many other times with so many other things. I emptied half her Xanax and Valium into my pocket, kissed her forehead and tiptoed out the front door.
Hm. The tools may be rusty, but the light in my woodshed is always on.
Now the guilt meter spikes. I pop the two yellow tablets in my mouth and wash them down with hot coffee. Fifteen minutes go by and the meters return to normal. Until I hear Bill’s voice:
“Look at this shit. Like this kid doesn’t have the best personal trainer, right?”
He approaches me, holding the NY Post open in front of him. He leans down and shows me a four-color picture on Page Six, a paparazzi shot of Ryan Gosling walking in SoHo, wearing a tank top and sipping a juice drink. The actor’s shoulders and biceps are sculpted and massive.
“Right?” Bill says again, angling the paper toward me. I nod quickly and look away. Then I look back at him. He stares at the picture. His mouth hangs open and his eyes glaze over. His sagging belly heaves in and out with each amorous breath.
The meters spike up again. I feel nauseas.
This is my world today. I once had a window into my former world—a world of friends, family, lovers, summer barbecues and winter vacations—but now it’s reduced to the size of an eyehole. Sometimes I try and look through it but the view is too small, too fisheye, and I give up, resigning back into the present moment: a world that spans the Waltham Commons, the Home Depot parking lot, and Bill—registered sex offender, drug dealer, key holder to all.
I watch him stare at the picture of Ryan Gosling. Then I notice a rock on the ground. The rock is the size of my fist, one of its edges flat and sharp. Not a single person is in view. Not a single car on the streets. It would only take one swing to the back of the neck.
The tools in my woodshed gleam.
I feel a vibration. A text message. I take out my phone, swipe and unlock the screen. (3) texts from Maggie, aka HazelEyes83.
Hey. Just woke up. Ugh.
I’m sorry about last night. I blew it, I know.
If you feel like it, would you maybe come by today? We can just talk or maybe go for a walk. I feel terrible about this. I really like you. I’m sorry. Hope I see you again.
I read the last text three times. I look back at Bill, who has wandered away with his dog, the NY Post folded up and tucked under his arm.
The nausea goes away. The bulb in the woodshed flickers out.
The happiness meter spikes.
I text her back.
* * * *
She waits for me on her front porch, smiling pitifully, her head leaning to one side while her mouth reaches in the opposite direction. It’s as though she’s balancing her face and brain in an effort to smooth out her hangover. I walk up the steps. The smell of patchouli oil is gone. Today her house reeks of guilt. The closer I get to her, the heavier the stench.
She wears a silk, floral print shirt with rolled-up jeans and fur-lined Ugg boots. I’m no fashion expert but I’m guessing the boots don’t quite go with the 85-degree June heat. Then again I’m sure her point-three blood alcohol level is having its way with her internal thermostat. Her face is bloated, especially her mouth, which puffs out as though it were underwater, breathing through a snorkel. A film clip runs in my mind: her trapped at the bottom of the ocean, eyes peacefully shut, her wispy red hair swaying upright like strands of tropical kelp. I shake off the image. She opens her arms. We hold each other.
I’m sorry, she whispers, pulling me in tight. I tell her it’s okay. She sobs. A warm tear hits my neck. It’s not okay, Danny…it’s not okay…it’s NOT okay… I wait for a director to yell “cut”. HazelEyes83 lays it on Gone With the Wind style, complete with the swoon and the clutching and the deep breaths sucked in through her teeth. She pulls away from me and wipes her eyes. “You’re a good man,” she says. “A decent man. Thank you for not taking advantage of me.”
I don’t know about decent, dollface. I think about the two Xanax I downed at the park, and the other two that are currently waiting for me in my pocket. I think about the sex offender’s incontinent dog shitting foam all over my Jeep’s passenger seat. I think about sitting in the Home Depot parking lot, the engine idling, one eyeball on the digital clock, waiting to cop my evening dose—the only time I ever get butterflies in my stomach.
Until now, maybe.
“Let’s go inside,” HazelEyes83 says. And we do, hand-in-hand through the foyer and into her corner bedroom. The scene of the crime. I case the room quick: an area rug over hardwood floor. A white longhair cat curled up on a cushion below the window. A poster of some minimalist artwork promoting the opening night of a play or a wine tasting or a music festival or some bullshit. A pushpin board displaying a collage of faded color 4x5s. A twin-sized bed with a taut white comforter and goose down pillows. The room is dressed with innocence, not a trace of residual shame from the night before. I guess that’s why God invented daylight.
We lay down on the bed and I put my arms around her from behind. Spoon position. Her hair smells like shampoo, her skin like moisturizer, the comforter like detergent. Cleanliness all around. She holds my hand.
“Do you hate me?” she asks.
“No,” I say. What I don’t say is that I only hold a certain amount of hatred, and it’s all reserved for me. “Do you always drink that much?”
“Never,” she says, quietly, cinematically. Dress rehearsal time. “I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe I was dehydrated. Maybe I’m a little under the weather.”
“It could have been anything,” I say, and for a second I believe it. I want to believe it. Optimism comes easy when you’re laying in bed next to an attractive woman on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. But underneath the downy white comforters and the Polo shirts and the chivalry and the dehydration there’s a brutal, slithering truth. I know it because I’m chained to it myself. Because I recognize the lies. Hell, I spent years perfecting them.
“Why’d you come back?”
I take a moment. The answer is easy: because anywhere is better than the Waltham Commons at six on a Sunday morning. Because I’m lonely. Because I’m scared. The same reasons anyone comes back.
“I came back because I like you. I want to get to know you.”
“I’m a hot mess.”
I kiss the back of her neck. “Don’t ever change,” I whisper in her ear. Now I’m the one laying it on, full Hollywood.
“Can we just lie here for a while? I might doze off, but I want you to stay. I want your arms around me.”
“You got it.” I give her shoulders a squeeze and press up against her back, and for a quick beat I get that Good Feeling, the one that often comes when you hold something close and tight. I want to make a story out of this, and I want it to end well. HazelEyes83 may be a hot mess, she may be a devout alcoholic, but in a fucked up shooting gallery of meteoric sand pebbles, she may be exactly what I need. We don’t know how these things are supposed to go down in the celestial universe. It’s Love that calls the shots after all, not us.
“Danny…I like you, too. I really do.” This after spending a combined total of forty-five lucid minutes with me. Ah, hell with it. Let the moment happen. I’m just not used to a woman saying she likes me. It’s like contemporary rock music; I’m sure I’ll warm up to it eventually.
I land another small kiss on the back of her neck. Silence for a while. Her breathing gets long and steady as she slips into sleep. I rest my chin on her shoulder and let myself rise and fall with each breath. I could sleep right now, too. Maybe it’s time I start letting go.
“Mm…really like you,” she says, but only a soft moan. I lean over and kiss her cheek and my eyes freeze on her nightstand. The bottle of Xanax, its label turned squarely in my direction, as if to say I call the shots around here, not Love. Go fuck yourself.
“I really like you too,” I say. Just a whisper of the truth, but it’s something.
* * * *
Today is a good day. My big sis hooked me up with second row seats to the Sox-Devil Rays game, right behind the on-deck circle, and I’m taking Maggie, the girl formerly known as HazelEyes83. Tonight, under the lights of Fenway, in between eight-dollar cups of Bud Light, we will declare our love for each other. We will commit. We will have The Talk.
It’s been twenty-four days since our disastrous first date and twenty-three days since our providential recovery. We took it slow at first but have now slept together together twice, both times at my place, both times with her spending the night. And both times with me making up an excuse for why I had to leave at quarter of six in the morning and return at eight. The first was driving my mother to the airport for an early flight. The second was helping a friend install a new water heater, a perfectly legit errand to run at dawn on a Sunday. I’ve only a couple valid lies left in my arsenal, a precarious place for a master of deceit.
I have decided to come clean with Maggie and tell her an abridged version of the truth. That since last summer, when I had most of my colon removed due to a fierce Crohn’s Disease flare-up, I have been addicted to opiates. (Truth: I have been addicted since my first root canal in 2003.) That in an effort to mitigate the withdrawal of coming off the Percocet I started taking Suboxone, an opioid antagonist designed to keep addicts like myself “clean”. (Truth: the perks stopped working so I switched to something cheaper and longer lasting, though far less euphoric.) That rather than confess to my doctors about my addiction (and risk them blaming themselves for over prescribing) I found an illegal source who only allots me one per day. (The second part is true; my illegal source will sell me one whenever I drive him and his dying chow shepherd to the park for an hour.) That I am weaning myself off according to a timetable I gleaned from WebMD. (Truth: I have tripled the daily dose over the last year.) That I plan to be completely free from the drug in one month. (Truth: I’ll deal with one month when it comes; let’s just get through today, for Christ’s sake.)
I will omit the part about stealing two of her Xanax every time I visit her house, how I whittled the prescription so low that I just took the entire bottle a week ago and then planted the idea that it was Sarah, the bitter bitch of a roommate, who probably stole them out of spite. Like the calculating dope fiend that I am, I cautioned Maggie about confronting her, suggesting instead that she let it lie and just call in another refill. I then thoughtfully found a new hiding place for the prescription—inside the silver tea tin next to her candles.
It’s like a weight has been lifted from my chest. Ah, sweet, virtuous freedom.
It’s the bottom of the fourth, the Sox are up by two, and I’m ready for my admission. Maggie has her fifth beer in one hand; in the other is a game ball that David Ortiz flipped to me during warm-ups. Well, he either flipped it to me or the nine year-old kid standing next to me, but I had the reach. Maggie is buzzed and happy. Now is the time to tell her. Pedroia flies out to end the inning. I put on the hangdog mask and spill the beans, just as I had practiced. Except I forgot the part about falling in love with her. Shit, that was the lynchpin.
Maggie places her hand over mine and kisses my cheek. “I’m so glad you told me that,” she says. Then she takes a deep breath and sighs it out. Her smile vanishes as she looks out at left field. She bites her lip. “Actually, there’s something I need to tell you, too.”
Curveball. I stare at her, imagining the worst. Husband? Pregnant? Convicted felon? I already know she’s a drunk. What else is there?
“You can tell me anything,” I say. My bowels loosen.
“I have genital herpes,” she says. “And hepatitis C.”
My hand slides off her leg. I look up at the American flag. It waves valiantly in the summer breeze.
Sweet, virtuous freedom.
TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR THE TERRIFYING CONCLUSION…
The Dogwood is just another bar in Jamaica Plain. Even at 4:00 on a Saturday it’s filled to capacity with artists, musicians, hipsters and vegans. An asshole symposium. And I’m just another asshole, sitting at the far end of the bar, dressed like a cabana boy in a white polo shirt that’s two sizes too small, feigning interest in a playoff hockey game on the TV and drinking 20-oz Bud drafts as fast as I can, whatever calms my nerves and occupies my mind as I wait for yet another online date to streak across the atmosphere of my pathetic love life and then fizzle and burn out just as quickly.
That’s dating in the modern world, baby. A shooting gallery. A billion meteorites the size of sand pebbles flying past each other, poking holes in the universe.
* * * *
Normally at this time I’m sitting in a Home Depot parking lot, counting the minutes until 4:00, when a registered sex offender named Bill clocks out from the customer service desk and I drive him back to his mother’s house to cop a $30 dose of something: Percocet, Suboxone, Xanax…whatever’s in season. I’ll ingest anything, so long as it blocks out reality’s hi-def signal. Today I planned ahead and met Bill before work, at 6:00 AM. But the buzz wore off two hours ago and the daylight has since flooded back into my mind. Cue the 20-oz Buds.
At 4:18 the door opens and in walks HazelEyes83. Fashionably late? Maybe, but her dirt-covered muumuu and orange clogs sap the fashion right out of that sentence. We shake hands and I notice grime underneath her fingernails. Immediately I go into detective mode, connecting dots, drawing conclusions. Was she held in some sort of captivity, trying to dig her way to freedom? If that’s the case, at least we have one thing in common.
She opens door number one. Her name. Maggie.
Maggie’s tall, almost at eye level with me. Her hair is long and wavy and red, but not the kind of dark crimson you find here in the northeast; hers is bright orange, untreated, unbrushed, a thin wisp of bangs curling down over a pale forehead. Like a schoolgirl on a playground, complete with the muddy knees. I look her up and down, trying to be subtle. She notices and giggles, acknowledging the smears of dirt on her arms. “I was gardening all day,” she says.
And drinking, I think, after catching a whiff of gin mixed with tooth decay. Not that I’m one to judge; it isn’t even 5:00 and I’ve already taken six extra-strength Vicodin, smoked two bowls, drank four beers and snorted half an Adderall. And I still feel sober.
We grab a two-top in the corner and order drinks: another Bud for me, a Long Island iced-tea for her. Food comes eventually, but it’s just a table ornament. She outpaces me two-to-one on the cocktails. I ask where she’s from, you know, the accent. Texas, she says. What’s she doing up here? Grad school. Public health. Boston University. Work-study. She talks about her two-year stint in Nairobi, teaching math and science to teenage girls. She talks about the African sex trade, about oppression, about human rights, about AIDS, about feminism in the face of political tyranny. I can tell by the look in her eyes that she wants to do some good in the world. And I can tell by the amount of alcohol she drinks that she’s seen her fair share of the bad, too.
She hands it over to me. “So what about you, Danny?” I shrug. Advertising, bowel disease, reruns of The Sopranos, a Siamese named Bootsie. What else am I gonna say? That most of my waking life is spent chasing down prescription medications? That a typical Saturday night consists of me getting high, putting on spandex biker shorts and lip-syncing "Paradise City" in my one-bedroom condo? The most exotic place I’ve ever traveled to is Daytona Beach, and the hallmark of my philanthropy is a twenty-dollar monthly donation to the ASPCA. My idea of a summer getaway is taking the top off my Jeep and doing seventy-five down the Mass Pike. Christ, I’ve got nothing to offer this girl except takeout dinners and Netflix.
After two hours and four more cocktails we hit a lull. She chews her lip and looks around the bar. I drumroll my fingers off the table and click my tongue. I’m ready to throw in the towel when she says, “My roommates are having some people over later tonight. Would you like to come by?”
It’s the first good idea of the night.
She smiles and excuses herself to go to the ladies room. As she gets up she touches the back of my hand, then drags her fingers along my forearm.
Maybe I’m not such an asshole, after all. Maybe this tall redhead feels the pull, the action, the spark, whatever the hell it is. Maybe our meteorites are on the same orbital path. I can’t take the credit, though. Shit, the Long Island iced-teas did all the heavy lifting.
I pay the check and walk her to her car, a tiny late-model Honda that’s covered in bumper stickers. “Come by around nine?” she half says-half asks, wobbling on her clogs, grabbing my shoulders for support. I tell her yes, I’ll be there. She makes a yay sound and breathes a hot gust of fermented tequila in my face. Then she leans in and kisses me. A long, clumsy one.
She gets in her car and backs out of her spot. She taps the bumper behind her and scrapes the rear panel of the car in front of her, but she makes it out with an abrupt lurch, almost hitting the cars parked on the other side of the narrow, one-way street. She swerves back into a straight line and drives off. I notice two of the bumper stickers on the rear of the Honda--Obama/Biden ’08 and the Grateful Dead dancing bears—and then the car is further down the road, moving cautiously slow, straight past a STOP sign and through an intersection without even tapping the brakes.
* * * *
Back at my place I take a quick shower, brush my teeth, smoke a bowl, douse my genitals in baby powder and then I’m back on the road. I stop at Al’s Liquors and grab a twelve-dollar bottle of red. If the movies have taught me anything, it’s never show up empty handed.
I cruise down Columbus Ave., through Roxbury, back to Jamaica Plain. Even with the warm spring air and the classic rock blasting from my car stereo my palms still sweat and my stomach rumbles. Only bad things lie ahead, I think. I can’t help it. In the past, J.P. has meant only two things to me: Dominican drug dealers and second-hand music stores. And I haven’t bought a record since ’98.
If there’s any place to turn over a new leaf, this ain’t it.
I turn onto Centre St. and check the directions on my phone. I’m close. I don’t need the map to tell me that; I can feel it in my colon.
I park my Jeep and run up some steps. And then: ding-dong.
“You came,” Maggie says, swaying by the front door. She sounds surprised even though we’d been texting for the last twenty-five minutes.
She takes my hand and leads me through the first floor of her house, an old Victorian she rents from two middle-aged lesbians. The place reeks of patchouli oil, like a white boy’s dreadlocks. I could smell it all the way from the sidewalk.
“Everyone’s out back,” she says, squeezing my hand.
We move through the kitchen and out through a screened door to a back patio, where three people sit around a table. I case the area, one sweep: Teva sandals and bare toes. A bag of Drum tobacco and an acoustic guitar. Love beads and a Guatemalan tunic. A ponytail and wire-rimmed eyeglasses. A girl with blonde hair and sleepy eyes, wrapped in an afghan, curled up in a lawn chair. It’s like I just went backstage at a Mamas & Papas concert. I hide the bottle of wine behind my back, wishing I hadn’t brought it.
“Did you bring us something?” Maggie asks, nodding toward my hidden arm. I pooh-pooh the Yellowtail Pinot Noir and hand it over to her. She gives me the grand thank you, clutching the bottle to her a chest like it’s a goddamned Academy Award, and sets it on the table, next to a liter of Ruble vodka, some store-brand cranberry juice, three candles melted down to nubs and a half dozen red Solo cups, some with cigarette butts floating in them. The bottle of wine stands among these things like a tailored suit at an inner city bus stop.
I get the introductions. Ponytail and the sleeping blonde are a couple; the other chick is Sarah, Maggie’s roommate. Sarah picks up her patio chair and moves it closer to me, making an awful screeching sound as the cast-iron legs drag along the brick surface. “So Danny,” she says, closing her eyes and carefully taking the final drag of a cigarette. Her hand trembles. A long plank of ash falls down on her lap. She doesn’t notice. Her head lolls around in its socket and she painstakingly swallows some air. “Um, so Danny, can I ask you something…personal?”
This girl is so hammered it’s revolting. She reminds me of a dying horse. I feel a sudden pity for her. I want to put a bullet in her temple and end her misery.
“Sure,” I say, looking around at the group.
“Well,” she says, leaning over the side of her chair toward me. I pull back, afraid she might puke. “I read your OK Cupid profile. I read it. And, well, just to be sure, you’re thirty-seven, right?”
“I am.” I don’t know where this is going, but in preparation I get a visual on the vodka and an empty Solo cup, just so they’re within arm’s reach.
“Then how come, in your profile, which I read, it says you’re looking for women ages twenty-five to thirty-five? Hmm? I mean, why not thirty to forty? Or, I don’t know, thirty-five to forty?”
I reach over to the table and pour myself a cup of warm vodka and drink half of it straight down, getting a quick taste of homelessness. The vodka burns my throat and chest.
“Good question,” I say, stalling. I look to Maggie for help and find her, squatting in the bushes behind the patio, peeing. She smiles and waves to me like I’m a parent, watching her get on the bus for her first day of kindergarten. I turn back to Sarah. “You know, I never gave that much thought, actually. I guess I just figured since women are so much more emotionally mature than men, that maybe I should go down a few years, try and be on the same level.”
The awkwardness hovers around us like a rotten stench. The candles on the table die out, sending thin plumes of smoke spiraling into the air.
Fast forward twenty minutes and ponytail is knee deep into Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote”, strumming and tapping his Yamaha acoustic, eyes closed, quivering his lips over each word, his face and neck twitching with each inflection, his shoulders rolling every time he holds a note. He looks like Gordon Lightfoot with a mild case of turrets. You just picked up a hitcher…a prisoner of the white lines on the freeeeeeewayyyyyyy…
At least he pulled us out of the awkwardness. I look at Sarah, who’s resting her cheek on her fist and slowly stretching her mouth all the way up to her ear. I look at the blonde, still asleep, hasn’t moved since I got here. Maggie sits upright, her hands in the air, snapping the fingers on her right hand while the left twirls a plastic Solo cup around and sends small waves of vodka splashing over the rim.
The song ends and Ponytail segues into spoken word, strumming slowly between a G chord and an A minor while reciting a poem about a lonely Venezuelan coffee bean farmer. “I call this ‘Calloused Soul’”, he tells us. Maggie tilts her cup back and finishes her vodka, though most of it trickles down her chin and neck. She laughs so hard she falls out of her chair. Lying on the ground, she informs us that some pee just squirted down her leg. An image of her in a white medical coat inoculating small African children flashes in my mind.
A neighbor walks onto a back deck behind us and politely asks us to keep the noise down.
Ponytail puts the acoustic down and pulls a bag of weed from his fanny pack. He rolls a joint the size of a bobby pin, lights it and passes it around. The blonde wakes up, takes a hit, and goes back to sleep. Maggie holds onto the jay for ten minutes while she tells us a story about her high school boyfriend, describing the curvature of his penis in detail. Everyone nods along, except me, because I’m staring at the joint, watching it burn down in Maggie’s hand. Finally I reach out for it and she hands it over. I get half a hit before it burns my fingers. It doesn’t even taste like weed. It’s probably kale.
“Are you okay, man?” Ponytail says. It takes a moment before I realize he’s talking to me. I haven’t said much this whole night, and it occurs to me I have that pissy, disgruntled look on my face, the same face I wear when something doesn’t go my way.
Before I can answer Maggie is sitting on my lap, all five foot ten inches, one hundred and fifty pounds of her. “Vat’s a matta, dah-ling?” she says in a German accent, the point of which is beyond me. She erupts in more laughter and then drops her voice and presses her neck into my face. “Do you like this?” I smell sweat and vodka. Her body odor is so toxic it's probably keeping the mosquitos away. I try and wiggle free but she pushes harder. From the corner of my eye I see Ponytail pack up his acoustic. Maggie leans into my diaphragm and wraps her arms around my neck. I can’t breathe. The edges of my vision blur. Then I hear that scraping sound and one of the chair legs buckles and we collapse onto the brick. I black out for an instant and when I come to Maggie is laughing crazily into my face, blowing her hot poison wind into my mouth, transmitting the bile and vodka and rot into my body like it’s a demonic possession.
“WILL YOU PLEASE KEEP IT DOWN OUT THERE!”
Another plea from the neighbor. “Uh-oh,” Maggie says. She gets up, then reaches down to help me.
“I got it,” I say, waving her off. I get up and walk around the patio a couple times, limping, holding my left hip. “You broke the fucking chair.”
Maggie holds a finger over her lips. “Shhhhhhhh.”
Ponytail wakes up his girlfriend and leaves. Sarah, the roommate, remains seated, staring at us, pulling on her face. She looks like an alien in a bad human disguise, something out of Men In Black.
I want to go home. I can think of nothing better than going to bed, waking up early tomorrow morning and driving to the Home Depot parking lot to cop something, maybe a benzo so I can relax and read the Sunday paper, then nap the afternoon away. I’m about to say my goodbyes when Maggie grabs my wrist.
“I’m not done with you yet,” she says. She leads me back into the house. Before I walk through the screened door I turn and catch a glimpse of Sarah, staring at me, her lips curling downward into a sneer.
I follow Maggie as she zigzags down a dimly lit hallway, using the wall both as support and as a directional aide. I ask where her third roommate is—small talk—and she responds with a belch that drifts back and clings to me. She pushes a door open and we’re in her bedroom. Before I can close the door Maggie pulls her muumuu up over her head and throws it across the room, where it lands on a lampshade. She wears white cotton panties and nothing else. She drops on the bed, looks up at me, and beckons.
We make out for a couple minutes. She groans and tugs at my hair until I hear a ripping sound. “Ouch. Jesus,” I say, grabbing her wrist and pulling her hand away.
She laughs again and palms my face, squeezing my cheeks together. “You ah zee boy. I vill have my way with you.” Again with the German accent. I pull her hand away and hold her down by her shoulders. I tell her to please relax. She does. Her head sinks into a pillow and she mutters something low and inaudible. I move down and sprinkle her stomach and back with small kisses. When I come back up she is facedown, her eyes closed, her mouth open, a small circle of drool on her pillowcase.
“Maggie?” I shake her shoulder. Nothing. “Maggie?” I shake harder. I hold her wrist in the air and let it fall back down, watching it smack the side of her buttocks. I grab her wrist again and feel for a pulse. Nothing, but then again, I've never checked for a pulse before. “Jesus Christ,” I say, scratching my head. I place my fingers in front of her nose. I can’t feel anything—at least I don’t think I feel anything. Should I get Sarah? The alien roommate who hates me because of my OK Cupid age preference? I look around the room, and that’s when something catches my eye. Something on the night table next to the bed.
Three prescription pill bottles. Everything goes on hold. I feel that adrenaline shoot up from my bowels to my chest. I’m light-headed. I straddle over Maggie’s dormant body and reach for the pill bottles, checking each label. The first is unfamiliar. No value to me. The second is Valium. The third is Xanax. I pick up the Xanax and give it a little shake. It’s robust and full, music to my fiending ears.
I look down at the half naked body on the bed.
I look at the bottle of Xanax in my hand.
Only bad things lie ahead.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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